Since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that all people are without excuse.
-- Romans 1:20
Some people in order to discover God read books. Well, there's a very great book -- The Appearance of Created Things. Look above you, look below you, note it, read it. God whom you want to discover never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?
-- St. Augustine
For people of faith, too often there is little room left in their spiritual lives for deep concern about the environment, much less action toward protecting the amazing gift they have been given.
"Part of the problem is that most Christians no longer have a clear vision of how they should relate to the natural world," said Fred Kruger, an orthodox priest and former head of Green Cross, a Christian environmental group, one of many beginning to combine their faith with what they feel is their responsibility of protecting Creation, or the earth. "The majority of churchgoers have a woefully weak or even non-existent theological understanding of creation. The clergy in particular have 'catch-up' work to do.
"This means that the task on the one hand is to reacquaint ourselves with the biblical vision of how the human integrates into Creation and, on the other, to make those personal changes which will integrate our lives into that vision."
Kruger's thoughts and those of other spiritual environmentalists will be presented this Saturday at Creation Care Clinic, a workshop on the Colorado College campus. Organized by CC senior Tami Beitzel, the clinic will also feature a presentation by Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist Jack Vayhinger, who has been researching the environmental impact of humans on bighorn sheep, and a Conscientious Consuming Workshop, addressing the advertising industry's manipulation of our desires, by Nicole Holt, head of the Campus Programs Division of Target Earth.
Also presenting will be Angela Kantola, facilitator for Opening the Book of Nature, a program designed to help people reach a deeper understanding of God through nature, started by Fred Kruger and Vince Rossi, also a priest.
"God has yet another Word to learn from. We understand that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, and that the Holy Bible is God's written word, and that there is another Word, and that's the Word as is evidenced in everything that He's made," said Kantola.
In the OBN program, people of all denominations are introduced to nature firsthand, and then given the opportunity to discuss what they find and feel. Periods of private prayer and reflection are integral to the program. An introduction to OBN will be offered at this weekend's clinic.
Beitzel, along with 15 other CC students, decided to host the clinic after learning about eco-spiritualty this summer.
"I guess my personal goal with the clinic is to be able to jive the two worlds, both environmentalism and [Christian] spirituality," said Beitzel. "It feels like when we're talking about environmentalism, we always try to separate it too much from our spiritual beliefs. It seems you can't have both, or that if you do have both, you're somehow wrong. They don't seem to go together, so the idea was to be able to have both going on. It's really just about being aware."
Beitzel hopes that people leave the Clinic with a better understanding of how they can preserve their natural surroundings.
The devastating effects of human habitation on earth are just beginning to show. Consumerism and the demand for more of everything constantly increases while resources dwindle, land for food production becomes scarce and pollution levels rise, affecting every man, woman, child, beast and living thing on the planet, especially those most in need.
In Genesis, following the creation, God said: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28). Unfortunately, the words "multiply," "subdue" and "dominion" have to this point been interpreted to mean ownership. Eco-spiritualists beg the question: Are we in truth only caretakers? If the world is a gift to us from God, should it not be held sacred, like the Bible?
While the Opening the Book of Nature program isn't focused on conservationism, many people come away from the weekends with a new outlook on their role in the environment.
"The program is more about spiritual formation than about anything else, but the lessons about caring for creation are lessons that God teaches as part of the process. It's very prayer-centered, very Christ-centered," said Kantola, who works with endangered species in her professional life.
"It's really interesting to see how once people have been out and been involved in this -- and we really are doing very little, and perhaps no, discussion of conservation or environmentalism or anything like that -- it's interesting how the campfire conversation comes around to that. What happens is people encounter God in His Creation, and the lessons that they're learning there go quite deep. They begin to realize the need for reverence of God as well as for caring for His creations. It just comes welling up out of that. To me, it's a very powerful experience."
While the possibility that we have ignored our stewardship of the earth so long that we can no longer reverse the damage is very real, people like Beitzel and Kantola are taking steps toward local, deeply grounded solutions. In replenishing the earth, they believe, we might also be able to find another path to replenishing our souls.